It’s not a stretch to imagine the printed book becoming an endangered species in a society where 140 characters or less becomes the limit of knowledge consumption. With the advent of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of digital media, the appreciation for the printed word becomes simultaneously treasured and successively phased-out. Multidisciplinary artists Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares contemplate and attempt (on a small scale) to reverse this degradation of the book by reaffirming its utility, its artistry, and its general significance even in a contemporary moment.
Entitled State of the Book, the two Miami-based artists (Millares is a frequent collaborator with Wright on her live and recorded projects) will inhabit the space of Spinello Projects within the Wynwood Arts District beginning July 13th. A cavernous, generous space called the Gesamtkunstwerk houses both Spinello Projects helmed by Anthony Spinello and Butter Gallery, directed by Francisco de la Torre. A set of false glass doors resembles a storefront bookshop at the entrance to the gallery, leading up to the open space itself which is populated by shelves and stacks of printed material available to peruse and probe. The sensation is strange: a library within a white cube almost tempts the viewer to be cautious or wary of what they’re about to see, somehow intimating that a quiet reading room is just too pure, too innocent of a concept to be housed in a young, avant-garde art gallery in Miami. The realization steadily sets in that there are no computers, no eerie video installations whispering evil subliminal messages in the air, no interpretive dance or wild gestures about to shock the hell out of the audience.
One can simply sit, relax and engage with a good, old-fashioned hardcover without a single technological outlet to be seen. The healthy collection is sourced from the Miami-Dade Public Library system as well as private book and manuscript collectors, and the artists themselves. The gallery becomes insular and protective, a kind of haven where the shelving and the physical qualities of the books become aesthetic materials. They subsume the institutional ‘sanctity’ of the gallery where each book, each word could equal a brush stroke, the sheen of a bronze sculpture, or the glimmer of a video work. Consequently, the visitors become part of the work: without their active participation, this pop-up library would be just another forgotten vessel of works. Wright and Millares encourage a reverence, a renewed fascination with the book as something more than a receptacle of fact and fiction. The gallery is transformed into a different kind of visual space, where subject and object merge into words, sentences, narrative plots and published theories.
Wright and Millares have, in the course of their joined and respective practices, pushed this sort of boundary before where practical expectation of a performative act is blindsided by a rush of socially-conscious challenges made directly to the audience. What is most delightful about this exhibition, however, is its location. Miami isn’t widely known as a ‘temple of knowledge’ versus a humid den of thieves and sinners. Not that this show will change that stigma anytime soon, but its comforting to know that two local artists relish all the city can offer-even if its not set to cocktails, thumping house beats, and the glare of the summer sun.
by Shana Mason
To view a previous project by these two artists, please enjoy the following video: